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MfS Course Details

These are the details of the Mindfulness for Singers course run for the pilot study. 

Week 1


The first weekly session started with a welcome talk and the participants introduced themselves to each other.  Then there was a discussion on the concept of autopilot, its benefits, problems and the difficulties in breaking habits with the participants offering their own experiences.  They were then encouraged to become aware of the sensation of normal breathing to bring their awareness into the present moment. This developed into learning the 3-minute breathing space technique.  The participants were guided through the gentle breathing and yoga type exercise called Mindful Movement, which was introduced as the daily practice for that week. Participants were also encouraged to become aware every day of one self-chosen task, such as brewing a cup of tea or brushing teeth, and engage totally with the activity in a mindful, sensory way.


3 Minute Breathing Space Instructions

3 Minute Breathing Space Free downloadble MP3 from 

Mindful Movement Instructions

Mindful Movement MP3

Daily Practice:

Mindful Movement

Habit Awareness.


Autopilot: Living on autopilot is useful in some cases and not useful in others. It may develop during childhood to help deal with excessive cognitive input combined with the need to do things quickly.  It is useful for doing repetitive mundane tasks leaving the mind space to think about other things. It is not useful when learning a skill such as singing. Participants were encouraged to suggest their own experiences of autopilot.

Discovering the breath: Mindfulness practitioners believe that in being aware of the physical sensations of the breathing mechanism that one can move into awareness of the present and out of the autopilot mode.  As an introduction to breath awareness, participants were asked to close their eyes and put one hand where they felt the most obvious sensation of normal breathing, and their second hand in the next most obvious place. Participants were interested on opening their eyes that the others had put their hands in different places.

3-Minute breathing space: A formal mindful exercise where one minute is dedicated to each stage.  At first, participants become aware of the sensations of breathing. Then they take a quick scan of the body and mind for any immediate physical, mental or emotional sensations. Thirdly, they imagine they are able to breathe into the physical, mental or emotional sensations of that present moment. 

Mindful Movement: A combination of simple yoga movements of 10 minutes in length designed to bring the mind into present moment awareness of physical sensations. The yoga movements concentrate on the shoulders and neck and are therefore useful for dealing with tension in these areas, which could be particularly useful for singers 

1. Participants are asked to stand in Mountain Pose, which is an alert posture with feet a hip’s width apart and arms by the side. This aligns well with good singing posture awareness. The participant is encouraged to be aware of their breathing in this posture, another good singing practice. 

2.  The arms are raised above the head very slowly being aware of all the physical sensations during the movement. The posture is held for a few moments for the mind to be aware of the breathing and then gradually lowered. Then a few moments are taken to become aware of any new sensations and any changes in breathing sensations.

3.  The shoulders are slowly rolled forwards and then backwards mindfully.

4.  The chin is dropped to the chest and the head slowly rotated until the ear comes towards the shoulder. The head is rolled from shoulder to shoulder with the participant being aware of the opposing muscles and the feeling of stretch and release.

5.  The participant drops the chin to the chest and slowly curls forwards at the waist with the arms and head relaxed and drooping and breathes into the posture mindfully releasing and relaxing any tensions with each breath.  Then they slowly curl up to standing and rest once again in mountain pose to be aware of the physical changes and concentrate on breathing once more.


Habit Awareness: Participants were asked to be aware of one task a day, such as brushing their hair or having a shower. They were encouraged to sensually experience the task in as many ways that their senses would allow, such as being aware of each muscle movement when brushing or watching the steam curl as the shower came up to heat.


Week 2


This session, like all subsequent sessions, started with a recapitulation of the previous week and a chance for the participants to ask questions and share any thoughts or insights. 

The first discussion was on stress, concentrating on singers and music student’s work leading to the life of a professional musician. The participants shared their own experiences of stress as a music student and performer. The second discussion was on the expectation and reality of doing mindfulness practice and the third on the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ mode (see below).  The participants took part in the Body Scan exercise, which was introduced as the weekly practice. It is usually done in a supine position. The researcher provided the yoga mats, pillows and blankets for all the floor-based practices such as the Body Scan and Yoga exercises. The Mindful Breathing exercise was introduced at the end of the session in preparation for the next week.  Participants were also asked to be aware of a different task or habit during the week.  


Body Scan Instructions.  

Body Scan Introduction MP3

Body Scan Meditation MP3

Daily Practice:

Body Scan

Habit awareness (a new one this week).


Stress: Different types of stress experienced by music students and music professionals, such as physical, mental, emotional and job related stress were discussed in the group. Stress is possibly a modern day evolution of the flight/fight syndrome so helpful for early man warning of life threatening situations but now exhibiting itself in, generally, non-threatening circumstances. Body/mind feedback in stress and non-stress circumstances was discussed and, as an illustration, the experiment investigating the effect of head movements on persuasion by Wells & Petty (1980) was introduced to the group.

Body Awareness: This was explored in the Body Scan exercise (see below).

Expectation and reality:  People expect to become relaxed and this is often seen as the goal of doing mindfulness exercises. However, it was pointed out that the only goal is to develop present moment non-judgmental awareness. Relaxation might be an extra effect.

Being and Doing Mode: We are human beings, not human doings.  The concept of ‘being’ compared to ‘doing’ was discussed.  Someone in the ‘being’ mode is aware in the present moment of doing something or choosing not to. Someone in the ‘doing’ mode is often on autopilot and often thinks they must always be doing something or they are not achieving.

Body Scan: This exercise is usually done lying down. The participant is taken on a mental journey around the body to explore physical sensations and bring the mind into present moment awareness. Usually, the participant starts at either the head, or the toes of one foot and explores their physique, body part by body part. The body scan for this project of ten minutes length was designed specifically for singers and so, as well as the normal body scan, a little more time was dedicated to awareness of the vocal principles involved in singing such as the tongue and larynx  

Mindful breathing: A ten-minute sitting breathing awareness exercise.


Week 3


Week three included a discussion on recent research into the effects of mindfulness on health, a topic of particular use to singers who rely wholly on their voice for work. A note about the necessity of repetition and practice of mindfulness was followed by a discussion on becoming aware of the pleasant things around us in daily life because we often focus on the unpleasant. This led to the suggestion to be aware of something pleasant each day that week.  Participants were then introduced to the concepts of primary and secondary suffering. Primary suffering is the unavoidable physical sensations that occur when facing situations such as auditions or performing. Secondary suffering is a physical/mental or emotionally compounded reaction to primary suffering, which usually occurs when the mind interacts from a past or future perspective.  To bring secondary sufferers into the present moment, and thus bring reality to the situation in the hope of alleviating this type of suffering, the participants were introduced to two versions of the Mindful Breathing practice. The Mindful Breathing Counting version concentrated on breath awareness where breaths were repeatedly numbered up to a count of 10. The Mindful Breathing Journey is a sensory awareness trip around the body exploring all the various sensations of breathing.  This was introduced as the weekly practice where the participants could choose which breathing version they preferred to use before singing activities. To help participants become aware of tension and physical sensations in the present moment, a Yoga session was included.


Mindful Breathing Instructions

Mindful Breathing Journey MP3

Mindful Breathing Counting MP3

Daily Practice:

Mindful Breathing

Become aware of (at least) one lovely pleasant thing/action and explore.


Mindfulness and Illness: Research correlating mindfulness with the development of a stronger immune system (Davidson et al., 2003) and new research positively correlating mindfulness with the prevention of ARI (acute respiratory infections) (Barrett et al., 2012) were discussed in class.  Singers can lose work through contracting colds or flu.

Repetition: Practice is important but can seem repetitious which is why there are many different mindfulness exercises presented to participants from which they can pick and choose depending on preference and need.

Primary and Secondary suffering:  Primary suffering occurs when an unavoidable situation, such as an audition or doing a performance, creates physical responses. The mind, unable to tell if the situation is life threatening or not, tells the body to prepare for fight or flight. Secondary suffering is a compounded reaction created by resistance to the progenitor of the primary suffering.  Usually occurring when the mind interacts from a past or future perspective, the response is additional to primary suffering. It can cause a variety of issues such as losing perspective, unnecessary worry, ruminative thoughts or symptoms of anxiety or depression.  Primary suffering may have to be accepted but secondary suffering can be helped by mindfulness.

An example would be getting marks back from a piece of work handed in three weeks earlier.  One might feel nervous, twitchy or even nauseous as the mind perceives an attack even though getting marks back is rarely life threatening. This is primary suffering. Thoughts and emotions often accompany these physical sensations, such as worrying about not having worked or researched hard enough in the past or fear of what a bad mark might mean for the future even though one does not know the result as yet. This is secondary suffering.  Sometimes a feedback loop occurs increasing the physical, emotional and mental symptoms. If one also had a lecture that morning, the secondary suffering might be so pronounced that one might not be listening to the lecturer and jeopardizing future work. This secondary mental suffering might make the sufferer, who can at this point do nothing about the mark, experience unnecessary suffering. Mindfulness at this point can help bring the sufferer into the present moment in the lecture thus aiding learning, taking the mind off the impending mark and relieving the mental and physical sensations until the moment of receipt of the mark.

Awareness of the Pleasant: Participants were asked to pick a neutral time and place each day and come into present moment awareness to notice something pleasant around them that they would not have noticed normally.

Mindful Yoga: A variety of yoga movements moving from work on the floor up to standing. The concentration is focused on the sensation of moving and, once in a Yoga posture, on breathing and releasing unnecessary muscular tensions.

Mindful Breathing (Counting):  A ten-minute breathing exercise usually done in a sitting position. After settling into a seated but attentive posture, the participant is encouraged to be aware of the sensations of normal breathing and drop a count of 1 at the end of the first breath, a count of 2 at the end of the second and so on. Once the tenth breath has been counted, the participant returns to 1 and repeats the process. At any time that the mind slips away and is noticed by the participant, they are asked to simply return the mind to the breath and start again from 1 with no judgmental thoughts of failure for losing concentration 

Mindful Breathing (Journey): This is another ten-minute seated breathing exercise. The breathing mechanism is broken into ten separate components. The participant starts by being aware of the normal breathing sensation at the tip of the nose, then in the throat, then expanding the lungs, the movement of the diaphragm, the lower abdominals, the pelvic floor, the lower back, the middle back, sensations of breathing in the shoulders, the sinuses and then starts again at the tip of the nose and repeats 



Week 4


The fourth weekly session included discussions on the concept of being judgmental and dealing with criticism. The participants were introduced to the ‘ABC model of emotions’ developed by Albert Ellis and the concept of “cataloguing” or mentally pre-judging new information.  Participants offered their own thoughts and experiences. 

The new exercise this week was a Mindful Eating experience. Dietary information had been requested from the participants during the previous week and raisins, grapes and chocolate were used in this exercise.  Participants were encouraged to explore each item in an intense new way using all their senses in as little pre-judgmental way as possible.  They also took part in a sounds awareness exercise, which led to the weekly practice of mindful listening. The participants were instructed to repeat the Mindful Movement exercise before singing lessons and practices during the week.

Handout: Mindful Listening


Daily Practice:

Mindful Movement

Listen to music mindfully (in lectures/at home/concerts)

Eat one meal a day mindfully aware of each mouthful.


Being judgmental:  The introduction example, “John was on his way to school, he was worried about the maths lesson, he was not sure if he could control the class again today, he’d not taught very much since becoming headmaster” was used to illustrate the suggestion that we tend to see the world as we are, not as it is.  Participants were encouraged to offer their experiences.

ABC Model of Emotions: Very basic introduction to Albert Ellis' (1991)  development of CBT. The way we interpret the world makes a difference to how we react. 

A: This is the situation itself. The stimuli.

B: Our interpretation or personal subtext (which we often take as fact).

C: Our reaction (emotional/mental/body sensation response/impulsion to act)

Being more mindful and in the moment can help interrupt point A from leading inexorably into point B. This can then affect our response to the experience, point C, changing our view point from the pre-expected to the raw experience or, to use mindful terminology, from reaction to reflection on the unpleasant/pleasant or neutral stimuli.

Dealing with criticism: A discussion of when criticism (from within and without) and being judgmental is constructive and helpful to learning and when it is not. Being self-aware, critical and judgmental in one respect when singing can aid us to learn and change in the moment. Berating ourselves and thinking ourselves worthless for doing something wrong can be damaging to learning.  The discussion was extended to include criticism from others in a singing context. 

“Cataloguing”:  A discussion about using mindful awareness to avoid ‘cataloguing’ behaviour, for example, hearing the start of a sentence and assuming (by drawing the answer from your mind’s catalogue) that you already know the end of the sentence. Another example is in dealing with criticism in lessons so that one is hearing what is actually said rather than letting your internal monologue drown out the reality and embellish on it.

Mindful Eating Exercise: An exercise to work on being judgmental, being critical, being in the moment, avoid ‘cataloguing’ and sense awareness. 

Materials – Pen, paper, raisin, grape, chocolate.

Participants were guided through the following points with the raisin, then the grape and then the chocolate.

“Take the raisin.  As though you had never seen one before.

1.     See it (explore with eyes).

2.     Hold it (weight/shadow).

3.     Touch it (swap hands, explore with fingers).

4.     Smell it (maybe no smell…).

5.     MINDFULLY Place it in your mouth – no chewing. Notice what your arm does, mouth does, tongue does to receive it.  Start to explore it with your tongue.

6.     Chew it. Consciously bite into it.  Taste, texture, notice what happens in the mouth.  Hear the sound of chewing.

7.     Swallow it. Feel the ‘wanting to swallow it’ feeling.  What does the tongue do to prepare for a swallow? Follow the sensation of swallowing all down.

8.     After effects. Aftertaste, absence of it, automatic tendency to have another?

Write down what you noticed.”

Observations were shared in the group.

Mindful Sounds practice: Participants were asked to be aware of their breathing and then to be aware of sounds around them.  In a music practice block, this meant a lot of different sounds to be heard, including the air conditioning.

Mindful Listening: This exercise encouraged the listening of one piece of music every day, being in the moment for every note and breathing into the physical/emotional or mental sensations brought about by the music. All singers have to be good listeners and this exercise could enhance their aural skills as well as their mindfulness skills. Listening to an unpleasant piece would work also on being judgmental, avoiding ‘cataloguing’ and being critical


Week 5


In week five, pre-performance nerves and inter-performance nerves were discussed. The participants offered their own experiences of music performance anxiety and their personal symptoms.  It was suggested that being rooted in the present brings back the reality of the situation and could help to control but not eliminate nervous symptoms and affect additional and unnecessary ‘secondary suffering’. Mindful strategies to control nerves and encourage present moment performance creativity were discussed in the session. 

The Mindful Walking exercise was introduced to help participants to become rooted in the present. Initially, the participants were encouraged to become aware of the sensations of walking; lifting the foot, placing the foot, balance change from foot to foot. Then they were taken on a specially prepared Mindful Walk around the campus over a variety of surfaces, steps, ramps and acoustic spaces. The instruction was only to talk with awareness in the present moment. Once back in the room, the participants did a sitting Body Scan as this was to be the 10-minute daily practice again for the week. They were also asked to walk somewhere mindfully each day  and to prepare a 5 minute unaccompanied song for the next week.

Handout: Mindful Walking

Daily Practice:

Body Scan

One (or more) walk/s a day done mindfully. Be aware of surroundings and self.


5 minute unaccompanied song.


Mindful Walking (including mindful walk around campus):  Firstly, participants undertook a slow indoor exercise to become more aware of the sensations of walking.  They started with becoming aware of ‘stepping’ (the sensation of the foot connecting with the floor), then ‘lifting’ (the sensation of the foot lifting from the floor) and finally experienced ‘shifting’ (the sensation of weight change from one step to another during walking). They tried imitating each other’s walking.

Secondly, the participants went on a carefully selected walk for 10 minutes around the campus. The instruction was that there should be no talking unless commenting on the present (their body sensations, emotions, the sights, sounds, current weather etc.). The route was designed to take in as many experiences as possible both inside and out of buildings, going up and down stairs, across grass, gravel, tarmac, into large echoing spaces, small carpeted spaces etc.  

Pre-performance nerves: Participants were told they were to prepare a song to perform for the group the next week.  They were then asked to tell the group if they felt nervous and describe their physical ‘symptoms’.  Then they were asked to tell the group the sort of thing that went through their heads when nervous. It was suggested that physical sensations were normal and natural for nervous people (primary suffering) and that some nerves were important to perform in an exciting way.  However, negative thoughts that could accompany the physical sensations were not necessarily helpful (secondary suffering) and that mindfulness breathing techniques could help bring back reality to the situation and keep things under a little more control.

Performing nerves occur when the mind tells the body it is under attack and it prepares itself to run or hide.  Controlling, not ridding the body of nervousness is important. Performing is rarely a life or death situation but our bodies act as though it is and can impair performance or enhance it.

Present moment performance creativity: Once on stage, nerves can impair creativity as the body and mind either runs on autopilot or can shut down altogether due to fear.  Performing distorts time awareness where a song can seem to take a moment and then it is all over. Using mindful breaths on stage can help singing breathing technique and increase the ‘sense of time’ thus allowing the chance to be more creative in the moment. 

Sitting body scan: A body scan was done in the sitting position as a participant had mentioned they wanted to do it but not lying down. 

Weeks 6 and 7


Weeks 6 and 7 were combined into a 2-hour performance session to give all the participants chance to use their mindfulness techniques in a stressful, simulated performance setting. They had the chance to practice mindful exercises to help in dealing with pre-performance nerves, a chance to creatively explore being in the moment whilst performing a 5 minute unaccompanied piece and practice at employing mindful breathing when being criticized after their performance by the other participants. 

The room was set up as though for a performance with the seats in small rows and a performance area was created. The session started with a Mindful Breathing exercise, then after pulling a number out of a hat, each participant got up in order to perform an unaccompanied song from memory for 5 minutes followed by constructive criticism from the group. The session ended with Mindful Movement practice. The weekly practice was Mindful Breathing with the suggestion to try Mindful Walking and Mindful Eating for one meal each day of the week.

No Handout this week.

Daily Practice:

Mindful Breathing

Recap Mindful Eating and Walking.


Pre-Performance Nerves strategies: There were regular reminders to come back to the present moment and be aware of breathing and body sensations for all participants while they waited for their turn throughout the session.

Creativity in performance: Participants were encouraged to be mindful in performance and concentrate on the body sensation of breathing to keep them in the present moment in performance.

Taking Criticism: Each participant was given constructive criticism by the group to practise being mindful under pressure. They were encouraged to hear what was said rather than that what they imagined they heard. They were also reminded to attend to the present moment by staying aware of their breathing when a criticism was being given. This strategy was used to help deal with any body sensations or negative thoughts that arose from the critical assessment.

Week 8

Conclusion: A brief recapitulation of all that had been learnt.

Full Body Scan to Yoga: The normal singing body scan with added detail for the arms and legs leading into yoga positions on the floor, moving onto hands and knees and finally into standing poses.  An hour of mindful exercise.

Daily Practice:

What’s now for you?

© Elfsinger Productions 2015